This post was inspired by Vickiee, a fellow dog trainer, and a friend. She has been training dogs for only nine months, and she tells me that she is thinking about leaving the #dogtraining business (which she loves), and go back to work in London (which she hates).
She says that finding customers is a lot harder than she had thought. People don't want to get their dogs trained, and she cannot fathom why. And even those who sign up for training, they disappear after a few sessions - in spite of the rave reviews she got from her customer. (Not only she is good with dogs, she is also the sweetest girl in town. And a lot more social than I am, I'll tell you that....
She is struggling to survive as an entrepreneur, despite the fact that she lives in a big town with many thousands of dogs. So I thought I share my thoughts on this with her - and with those who wish to learn about our trade. Truth be told, I went through the same phase in 2013, when I first began to train dogs as a business venture.
First I thought it was about about the money. That's what I have been told - that we live in tough times, and people can't afford to spend on dog training. Truth be told, there are trainers who charge ridiculous amounts for their service. I found this #dogbehaviourist who charge £150 for the first consulting - and her fee must be paid via wire transfer before she even looks at the dog. I have clients who paid £1000 for visiting a hot-shot, "Crufts accredited" dog trainer living up north - and that was for two short session over a weekend.
At the same time, market research shows (Mantel and Euromonitor carry out regular surveys on the pet industry) that annually we spend over £7B (yes, billion!) on our pets. And people have no problem to pay up £200-£300 for boarding when they go on a holiday. I know because I worked in one of those boarding kennels. And people, who say they cannot afford to pay for a £20 session then take the kids to McDonald's on a Sunday morning, and spend £60 on hamburgers and chips. (True story.) Not to mention people who fork out £1200 on acquiring a French bulldog - yet reluctant to spend a mere 2% of that amount for learning the basics on proper dog care. (Another real life example. The puppy is called Chi-chi, and she was bought from a breeder in Bournemouth.)
For a minute - but just for a minute - I suspected that people do not reach out for a trainer because they train their dogs themselves at home. Nah, that was a long shot.
Then I figured, it must be the weather: you cannot lure people out of their house with anything, as soon as the rain starts, or it's cold, or it's too hot, or it's windy... But then again, I meet people all the time in the woods, walking the dogs - regardless of the rain. And look at the Britons anyway: they are so tough, young and old, thin or chubby, they wear - God help us! - shorts on the coldest day.
It took me a while to finally realize what's going on, but I think I got it. And I thought I share my viewpoint with you folks, for better or worse, so it may help both owners and trainers to understand some basics.
Barriers we need to overcome to succeed
The most obvious one: people simply do not realize they have a problem.
The dog almost bites a cat in half, and the owner just nods "Uh, Murphy can be moody..." A woman's labrador runs a hundred meter away, and completely disregards the owner's repeated recall, but she doesn't seem to mind, because she says she wants to allow her dog "to be a free spirit". Can't tell you how many times I heard this as reasoning for disobedience.
And then of course, there is the case of the beagle that is likely to burst to pieces after one more biscuit, but his owner winks at me, and says "Like my husband, she just has a sweet tooth..."
As the good book says (not the Bible, but the one I am writing on dog training):
Only those can be salvaged who want to be salvaged.
People know they have a problem, but it's the dog that is stupid, crazy or "just too dumb", and "it has nothing to do with me"... They tend to justify their inaction by not wanting to "break their dog's personality" - whatever that means.
This is a big one - people know they have a problem, but are reluctant to call someone about it, because they feel embarrassed about their dog's misbehaviour. They fear to be judged, and they worry that others will point fingers. We have all been there...
(By the way, to this writer's experience, those who hate to be judged the most are usually the most judgemental of all... but that's for another post.)
"Okay, it may have something to do with me, but who the hell are you telling me what to do???" If I ever lost a client, it was for this very reason: no matter how polite you attempt to be, they get offended by the sheer suggestion that they might need to change a few things around here... Which is quite an oxymoron, as you are called in to investigate what's wrong, and paid to make some changes.
But there are some people who just HATE to be told what to do, no matter what. And sometimes, they are the wife or husband of your client, and you do not even know what's going on in the background. As a result they stop being to bring the dog to class, for no apparent reason. But they will never stand in front you, and call a spade a spade, because that would be just too much to confront with... And there's not much you can do about it.
Have you ever had the experience that a customer came to see you with her problem, showed commitment and enthusiasm to your training, promised to come to session, and then... nothing. You called her two days later, and she was hemming and hawing on the phone, and it was clear she was hiding something... and then she said that you guys should do this training at a later stage, because this "isn't the right time..." Don't worry. It's not you, honey. What you don't know, there is someone in the background - a husband, a girl friend, a co-worker, someone who said to her "Why do you spend all that money on that dog, honey...?", or something similarly "encouraging", and put some doubt right into her head.
There are only two things that are free in this world - oxygen and bad advice.
Never lose sleep over why people don't turn up after they said they would. Their problem will not go away, but will come back and bite them in the... you know where.
That's why I tend to warn my customers: don't tell anyone that you are into dog training, until you know that it works for you, and so you can shake off the naysayers.
And then here's the last, though probably the most common one: laziness.
I don't care what people say about how work they can work - if we could, we would stay home all day and just "chill out". (Myself not excluding.) People would love to have an obedient dog, just like they would like to have good children, a working marriage, or a lot of money. But too many dog owners simply do not have the level of RESPONSIBILITY and PERSEVERANCE necessary to carry out some guidelines to help their dog. It takes COMMITMENT to take the dog for walks, to really WATCH how to consistently treat the dog, to drive to the school for sessions, to make sure the dog gets enough exercise, and follow up with a training program.
I don't care how one justifies it - bad weather, no time, no money, no need... that's all bollocks.
How do we know?
Because if something is REALLY important, people always find the time, money and means to do it.
It all boils down to good old laziness, and once again, there is not much you can do about it.
Let's not forget - to get a dog trained takes DISCIPLINE and DETERMINATION. It is not all nice and beautiful. Do you think I am always cheerful to get out of bed on a cold, rainy autumn Sunday morning, put on the boots, and get to the school ground? Hell no! I would rather stay in bed, cuddle up with the old lady, and read some good books with a mug of fine tea. But I do it anyway, because this is my job. And dogs have no Sunday.
There are a few more obstacles we have to overcome in building a dog training business, such as the fear of failure, or lack of finances. (And there is, of course, the case when the trainer has not got sufficient knowledge and experience, or lacks social skills.)
But the ones described above are the ones that has NOTHING to do with you, and
there is not much you can do about those.
Remember, the distance to go from ignorance to knowledge is just as big a leap as going form knowledge to action. Do not berate people if they cannot make the leapd - it is not your responsibility. A trainer's job begins when a student shows up, who is determined to learn.
You can spend 90% of your energy with trying to enlighten people why they should get their dog trainer, and the end result, most likely will be a disillusioned trainer, but not a trained dog.
There is one single principle that has worked for me over the past seven years in my dog training business, and it was this one: DO NOT EVER TRY TO TALK PEOPLE INTO TRAINING.
They either have a need for change, or they do not. And if they don't - no amount of marketing or price dropping will remedy that.
Just do the best you can, constantly improve your knowledge and skills through books and videos, practice, practice, practice, and most importantly: always deliver what you promised, when you promised, how you promised. (And never promise too much.)
It takes a lot of guts to be a self-employed entrepreneur. When I have doubts, which still happens now and then, I think of all the dogs that need my help. This thought alone keeps me going, and gets me through hard times.
As far as I am concerned, there is no more fulfilling job in the world than being a dog trainer, and having a dog greet you with the outmost exhilaration, as he would know that you are the last hope for him to "fix" the owner, and so to have a decent life.
Whoever you are, wherever you are, if you are reading this now, thank you for your care.
When you need reassurance, give me a buzz.